Backyard Buddies
Purple Swamphen

Photo: R Nicolai

Purple Swamphen

Go Back

If you think you have seen a purple chicken, chances are you've actually spotted a Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio.

The Purple Swamphen is a large waterhen with a distinctive heavy red bill and forehead shield. They have red eyes and a deep blue head and breast, with black upper parts and wings. In bright sunlight the plumage shines with an intense blue sheen.

Long reddish legs with long slender unwebbed toes help it walk and feed in shallow water. They have a white undertail that is exposed when they flick their tail up and down.

You are likely to find these hens around the edges of freshwater swamps, lakes and creeks surrounded by dense reeds and rushes. Here they can find food, build nests for breeding and find protection from danger.

You may also stumble upon these birds in local parks with ponds. They are common throughout Australia's east and north, with an isolated population in the south-west.

Purple Swamphens are frequently spotted on the roadside and often crossing the road. As they like to be near water, the water in roadside ditches attracts them. Purple swamphens are in fact highly adaptable to changing environments - they can run, swim, fly and hide from predators.

They are omnivores, eating a wide variety of both plants and small animals including seeds, insects, frogs and aquatic vegetation. They will also eat eggs and small mammals and have the strength to pull up reeds and feed on the soft stems.

Purple Swamphens live in large extended family groups, whereas most birds live in pairs with only the current season's chicks. Breeding can take place at any time, but is mainly from July to December. They lay an average of 5 eggs and share the responsibilities of sitting on the eggs, feeding the young and chasing away predators.

Generally Purple Swamphens will retreat away from humans. However, they are very territorial during breeding season, and may even bite. The hens form a large nest bowl from trampled reeds and rushes and line it with softer reeds and grass. Look out for a platform of reeds just above the water surrounded by vegetation as this may be a Purple Swamphen nest.

Tip

If your backyard backs onto a freshwater creek, make sure you leave a lot of vegetation around the water. This is not only attractive to Purple Swamphens but will also attract many other buddies and help control erosion in heavy falls.

Slow down when driving after rain if you know that Purple Swamphens live near you.

Did you know?

Purple Swamphens are found in many parts of the world and have many different names? They are also known as the African Purple Swamphen, Purple Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Purple Coot or the Pekeko.

Related Factsheets:

Eurasian Coot

Coots live near water in every state of Australia, except in the most arid deserts. Coots also live in New Guinea, Europe, India, China, Indonesia, North Africa and New Zealand. A group of Coots is called a covert. Adult coots are black, with a white facial shield and beak. They have red ey..

READ MORE

Little Penguins

Little Penguins are also called fairy penguins. They are the smallest species of penguin in the world. They weigh just 1 kg and are only 30–40 cm tall. While excellent swimmers, they cannot fly. Often they have the same mate for life. Both parents feed and care for the young, who leave t..

READ MORE

Pelican

The Pelican’s massive bill has an extendable pouch which can hold up to 13 litres of water. The pouch acts as a net to catch fish. They strain all the water out the sides of their bills, then swallow their meal immediately – Pelicans don't hold things in their pouch for any extended length o..

READ MORE

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphens are common throughout eastern and northern Australia, with a separate subspecies common in the extreme south-west of the country. You may also see Purple Swamphens frequenting the same areas as Dusky Moorhens and Eurasian Coots. You can tell a Purple Swamphen apart from sim..

READ MORE

White Ibis

These water birds are sometimes cursed and shooed from family picnics in parks. Trying to chase ibises from urban areas is ineffective, and also very short sighted. It’s important to understand why we see ibises in such numbers in our cities. Habitat destruction and droughts in rural are..

READ MORE

Wood Duck

Wood Ducks are very distinctive birds and easy to recognise, as no other duck looks like them. The males rarely make much noise but listen out for the female Wood Duck making a long, loud 'gnow' sound. The Wood Duck is sometimes called the Maned Goose as they look more like miniature gee..

READ MORE

Quote

”...it’s all connected, your backyard to the big backyard and everything in between – we can all do our bit to help out nature.“

John - National Parks Volunteer, SA

Photo: OEH